Smok­ing on the ter­race

A dis­cus­sion with the Duck of the Mc­gall Li­brary

The McGill Daily - - Compendium! - Ni­cholas Wroe The Mc­gall Weekly

“You look un­happy.”

That is the Duck of the Mc­gall Li­brary – all of a sud­den speak­ing to me. I hadn’t no­ticed her ap­proach me while I stood smok­ing on the ter­race out­side the Mclemon Li­brary. She chal­lenges me with an ex­pres­sion of frus­tra­tion and dis­ap­point­ment, as I feel my con­fi­dence limp­ing away along the tip of my cig­a­rette.

“You mustn’t smoke here, young man. This is a Non- Smok­ing Area.”

I’m stand­ing be­tween two col­umns against the wall of Mclemon, try­ing to find shel­ter from the pour­ing rain of a stormy late-april fi­nals-fuck­you. Ac­cord­ing to the Duck of the Li­brary, this cold al­cove con­sti­tutes part of the Non- Smok­ing Area. Briefly, I look at the rain­drenched smok­ing area down the stairs and be­yond the bridges. Not my first choice.

“The smok­ing area is over there, young man.”

The Duck of the Li­brary hap­pens to catch me at my best: I’ve been awake 37 hours study­ing for ex­ams I will fail. My speedy gaze of worldly con­cern trav­els through eyes blood­shot and ir­ri­ta­ble.

“Young man...”

The Duck of the Li­brary waits for me to sub­mit to her cour­te­ous au­thor­ity. Be­fore me, the glo­ri­ous ter­race of Mclemon is all but empty, ex­cept for the Duck of the Li­brary, and maybe twenty plas­tic “no smok­ing” signs.

“You know, I quit smok­ing forty years ago, so I rec­og­nize how you might feel.”

She is ex­tend­ing an olive branch with all the lum­ber of a Tro­jan horse: the Duck of the Li­brary em­pathizes with my sit­u­a­tion, yet as­serts her moral su­pe­ri­or­ity over me by dis­clos­ing a pre­vi­ously over­come nasty habit.

“Your at­ti­tude is un­be­com­ing, young man.”

The Duck is be­gin­ning to come out of her shell, so to speak. “YOUNG MAN!” The rain con­tin­ues to splat­ter the sand­wich boards of seg­re­ga­tion. I take an­other drag from my cig­a­rette, un­sure of what to do next. The Duck of the Li­brary is tak­ing a stance on prin­ci­ple, in­tend­ing to en­force the law of the li­brary com­plex.

But it turns out that, while we dis­cussed, I ac­tu­ally smoked my Camel Blue to the fil­ter. I toss my butt in the di­rec­tion of a nearby “no smok­ing”... sug­ges­tion!

Lies, half-truths, and a por­tait of the smoker as a young man.

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